Freemasonry has always been a part of my family life. My father, his father, and now my brother all belong to the fraternity, which dates back centuries and describes itself as “one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations”. It has always intrigued me. I’m not sure if this was because the Masons are a largely male group so I was unable to be a part of it, or because of some desire to chip away the mystery that has historically enshrouded them.
While living in New York City I had an opportunity to photograph many of my father’s friends and “brothers” who were Freemasons as part of a personal photography series. After moving to London I decided to contact the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) to open a new chapter in my series for the UGLE’s 300th-anniversary celebrations. Here, Masons of London talk about their experiences of being a member of the organisation and some of the misconceptions they feel the wider public about Freemasonry.
Brian Saidman joined the Masons 38 years ago, when he was in his early thirties. It has provided him, he says, "with an absorbing lifelong hobby and wide range of interests which sit comfortably with my family, home, and work. I have enjoyed the unreserved fraternity that exists throughout Masonry and which has enabled me to meet hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded men in all walks of life, enjoying a common interest."
The most poignant of Saidman's memories of his experience is of when he was able to award a highly regarded Masonic honour for exemplary services in the fraternity to a senior member who was housebound and in the final stages of a terminal illness. "As a senior Mason I was chosen to visit him, at home, with the full encouragement of his family, and present him with his award in person. Surrounded by his family and with an almost party atmosphere, I had the great pleasure of investing him with his honour and seeing his very great pleasure as he received it and all the beaming faces in the room witnessing his happiness. He passed away a few days later."
Robert Kingham thinks the worst misconception about the Masons is "that Masonry is part of a global network of Illuminati that carefully controls and masterminds world affairs. If this were true, all the evidence would suggest that we're not very good at it." He joined Masonry when he found he could make time for it, and because it enabled him to see his brother and father more. "I also found the history, pageantry, and symbolism of the movement of great interest," he says.
Ronald Wainer joined the Freemasons 30 years ago after seeing how much his father enjoyed it. Now secretary of his local Lodge, Wainer says: "For me Masonry is a form of the most enjoyable 'time out' from everyday life. I think Masonry makes good men better, and being part of this development of myself and fellow members is an hour and privilege. I suppose I could be described as a traditionalist, and the pomp and ceremony that accompanies our meetings gives me a great sense of belonging."
For Guy Boyling, being a Mason gives him "chances to learn about historical events from a different perspective with like-minded people, and perhaps help alleviate some suffering." He hopes people know that Freemasonry is "made up of normal people, as in the police, teachers, lawyers etc, from a cross section of society, and therefore probably contains the same percentage of of good, bad, and indifferent types. It's no different in its makeup to society as a whole, with possibly a leaning towards generous charitable types."
Amritpal Singh Juttla
Before joining, Amritipal Singh Juttla did a lot of charity work on his own, and after doing research on Freemasonry he decided he would be able to continue his fundraising while being part of a group. Being a Mason, he says, "has taught me a lot, has helped build my character and my interaction with mankind".
"My favourite [Masonic] memory was on the day of my joining," Gavin Tuck says, "when the blindfold was removed and I looked around the room having adjusted my eyes to the light, where I could see numerous faces known to me but who I never knew were Freemasons. This memory still stays with me and it is one that I talk about to new joiners to our Lodge, as my role as mentor."
Being a Mason means Tuck is able to spend time that he truly enjoys with his brothers from his Lodge, but he wishes there were fewer misconceptions about the Masons. "I wish people didn't listen to the rumours and asked what we are about," he says. "I accept we are a society of secrets, but not a secret society. On the other hand, Freemasons need to be more open and talk to people about what we do and thus dispel some of the myths."
Sunny Sandhu, who has been a Mason for nearly a decade, says becoming one was the best decision of his life. To him Freemasonry means "being a genuinely honourable person of good rapport", and he finds it fascinating being with people of different backgrounds and creeds who are able to come together with one common cause. There are many misconceptions about Masonry, he says, adding: "I think it's the secrecy of the Freemasons that make people think we have something sinister to hide."
Gary William Tuck
Since becoming a Mason "out of respect for my family and to meet people outside the field of my then employment", Gary Tuck's greatest memory has been when he told his terminally ill father he had joined and witnessed his father smile with a tear in his eye. For 31 years Tuck has felt a sense of "belonging to a historic organisation, with deep roots in the UK and worldwide establishments, with diversity being the base of the organisation".
Andrew James Holmes
"After being on the fence for over 10 years," Andrew James Holmes says, "Brother Stephen Saddler introduced me to the Widows Son's Masonic Bikers Association [an international Masonic motorcycle association that contributes to the aid and relief of widows and orphans of Master Masons] and all is history." For two and a half years Holmes has been able to give back to the community with his Lodge while being a part of its core growth. Being a Mason to Holmes means being "part of something that is as close to my military family as possible".
An actor, Gary Phoenix decided to join Freemasonry because members of his family were Masons and he was curious about it. "I wanted to celebrate Freemasonry in this way," he says, "because this is a unique opportunity to celebrate something which is deep-rooted in culture and which I am proud to be a part of." Phoenix hopes people know Masonry represents and teaches brotherly love, relief, and truth.
The father to two young Masonic men, Peter Kingham has been a Freemason for 45 years. What makes him most happy is that "at least eight times a year I get to be with my two sons. Both take their craft very seriously. I am enjoying seeing them progress through the ranks of Masonry." Kingham received his Grand Honours letter on his wedding day and his son Robert announced it in his best man's speech.
Since becoming a Freemason in 1988, Joel Keryell has risen through the fraternity, but he felt embarrassed when he received his Active Grand Rank. "Whatever I do, I do because I enjoy doing it, and I felt that I had not done enough to deserve such a rank," he says. For him, the satisfaction he gets from his work matters more than any promotion,and he says an exchange with a junior member who praised him for his kindness and generosity with his time helped him realise that "in Freemasonry you are all truly equal". He says he is "proud to be a Freemason and part of an institution that has weathered the test of time with a membership that covers the four quarters of the globe. It has, in its own way, taught me to be more disciplined, tolerant, and to give time to the elderly and the needy."
Being a Mason means Alejandro Butcher can join his father in something that they both enjoy. "It allows me to walk a parallel path not only with my father but with countless other people," he says. "We have all taken the same steps and can share in the same stories knowing exactly what the other is referring to." He has found his best relationships through Masonry, and "it has helped him step "out of my shell in a way I wouldn't have been able to do by myself. To me it means a good chance to grow as a person."
Alexander Malmaeus decided to become a Mason himself in 2001. Malmaeus's favourite memory of Masonry is of "taking part in a ceremony by candlelight in the Great Chamber of the Charterhouse, where King James I held court on his first entrance into London in 1603".
Malmaeus hopes that in the future "more people knew what fun it can be to be a Mason. There are strong elements of charity and of learning, which help to bring members together and to have a wonderful time."
Eldon J. Mackridge
Eldon Mackridge, whose grandfather and uncles were Masons, was initiated in 1980 and has since been invested as a Provincial Officer. Being a Mason means he has a chance to help disadvantaged people via the Masonic charities.
When Marc Cooper started in Masonry eight years ago he was the youngest member in his Lodge – something he's very proud of. Cooper's happiest Masonic memories are of "being initiated by my dad when he was Worshipful Master and being installed as Worshipful Master of my Lodge", and he wishes more people knew "how much money we raise for charities".
Since becoming a Mason in 1979, Sidney Abrahams has been proud of the work of helping people less fortunate than himself. "I have always been involved in charity for my local synagogue and Boy Scout group," he says. "My friend asked me if I would like to join a Masonic Lodge where he was a member – I jumped at the chance, and have never regretted it."
Dr. Derek J. Oliver
"I believe Freemasonry is a great force for good in this world," Derek Oliver says. "Its requirement to avoid discussion of politics and religion as being primary causes of disagreement and disruption would, if extended across the human race, make a major contribution towards global peace through tolerance and understanding."
Oliver joined the group 37 years ago, but the reason he did so stems from a younger age: "When I was 12, I heard the then Chief Rabbi being interviewed on the radio; at the end, the interviewer challenged him, saying, 'How do you justify being a Freemason?' His response I remember to this day: 'Israel is at war with Egypt (the so-called 12 Days War was in progress); where but in a Masonic Lodge could I, a Jew, sit with an Arab and call him brother?' That said a lot to me and when, a lot of years later, I was invited by a colleague whose father was in the chair, I readily agreed".
Alex Hanna joined three years ago because it had been something he had known about for many years – both of his grandfathers were members. Hanna says being a member can help him step away from the "normal cares and business of life for a few hours here and there. Helps keep me sane."
Farhad Amin Latif
One of Farhad Latif's favourite Masonic memories is of "visiting a Lodge in Canada. I met people [I had] never seen before but yet felt I was between brethren. The friendship and hospitality I received, it seems I knew them my whole life."
"I have always had an interest in Masonry through out my life and find/have found many things relating to Masonry seem to mimic my own perspective of life and morality in general," Adam Makowski says. "It's good to know you can meet many like-minded people from across a broad selection of society, knowing that you can trust them as though they are part of your own family. I respect all the charity work we do for many good causes across the planet. I have heard that apart from the National Lottery, we are the biggest charity giver in the UK."
"I am very proud to be associated and a contributor to an organisation that does not have religious or political bias and the amazing amount of monies they donate to charitable organisations both large and small across the country," Steven Bartrum says. He hopes people will learn more about the charitable work that happens from the efforts of the Freemasons.
After growing up around Masons and frequently attending Masonic events as a guest with his parents, Kevin Kingham decided to join at 25. "It is a personal journey involving quite a lot of ritual learning which becomes harder as one gets older [and] is a good test on the brain," he says. "Meeting a stranger but having a lot in common when visiting a Lodge is also a pleasant experience. It is a great stability zone for many people in an ever-changing work. Helping others and showing tolerance is a theme that holds true as much today as ever."